What Kind of First Impression Does Your Company Make?

Interviewees put a lot of effort into getting ready for their job interviews – up to and including asking the internet for advice about their outfits. You look great, honey!

A friend got a callback for a job he applied for nine months ago with a tech start-up. He’s now happily employed elsewhere, but I encouraged him to take the phone interview anyway. After all, job interviews are a great way to get a sense for how your skills measure up in the marketplace. What transpired gave him such a shockingly bad first impression that I just had to share it.

Even in a down economy with high unemployment, all prospective employees should be treated well. Think about it: They are individuals in your field who have a high level of interest in your company. They cared enough about your company to consider working for you – and they were a close enough fit that you invited them in for a one-on-one meeting. That makes them prime stakeholders. During the interview you have a chance to turn them into champions or detractors – whether or not they end up being successful candidates for your open position.

Beyond your reputation in your industry, it’s also important to remember that employee engagement starts with the interview. Prospective employees will be judging your employee engagement by those crucial first interactions. What kind of message are you sending?

Back to our candidate for worst first impression of the year. This is no two-bit start-up we’re talking about. They’ve received lots of national press for their disruptive idea, the founders are famous former Google employees, and they are well-funded. We don’t expect start-ups to be fully buttoned-up – their disorder is part of their appeal – but we do expect a bit of care in the hiring process since first impressions are so important. One would think that these are pretty obvious interview best practices. But apparently not at every company. Does your staff miss any of these when they meet prospective hires for the first time?

Be on time

As job interviewees we expect to be judged by every facet of the first impression: what we wear, how we sound, and whether we’re prompt or not. The same standard applies to your interviewer. In this case, our interviewer was 15 minutes late for a 10-15 minute phone chat.

Sell us a little!

All interviews include a high level overview of both the company and the job, right? Any interviewer worth their salt should share at least the basics of the position – and try to make them sound appealing. In this case, the length of the contract was unclear, because “we’re really not sure what the end goal is.” Fair enough – that’s a common enough situation in start-up mode, but there should be something exciting and interesting to go along with the uncertainty if you are hoping to attract top talent. How else is a potential staff member going to feel excited about working for you? Don’t forget that your prospective employees are hiring you, too.

Be prepared to share some information about the position

When questioned about the job duties (information as general as you’d find on a typical job description, like the type of degree required for the position), the interviewer claimed that she couldn’t get into details because the interviewee was not under NDA, which is kind of a conversation killer.

First of all, NDAs are practically unenforceable. Suggesting that a prospective hire sign one in order to get the most general information about what a job might entail is pretty amateur.

Second, to suggest an NDA so early in the process hints of a working environment that is cagey and full of secrets. Who wants to work somewhere where even basic information is under lock and key? The best thing about working in a start-up is how small it is: how quickly things happen, how much leeway each individual has for decision making, and how open and transparent leadership is with the staff. Asking for an NDA too early sends the message that your company is not an easy, open place to work.

Unsurprisingly, my friend did not continue on for another interview. And a start-up lost the chance to make a good impression on a key stakeholder.

Have you ever had a job interview that made you want to run? Share your story in the comments!

[Image credit: brixton, Flickr]

Jen Boynton

Jen Boynton is editor in chief of TriplePundit and editorial director at 3BL Media. With over 6 million annual readers, TriplePundit is the leading publication on sustainable business and the Triple Bottom Line. Prior to TriplePundit, Jen received an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. In her work with TriplePundit she's helped clients from SAP to PwC to Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA -- court appointed special advocate for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

One response

  1. This made me laugh as I remembered a firm that re-scheduled me at LEAST 3-4 times for both the phone interview and then the in-person meeting. After the meeting, (during which they had me sit in the room alone for 25 minutes) I followed up with a thank you, and then tried to follow up again around the date they said they would make a decision. I NEVER heard a peep from them, not even to say “no thank you”. Unbelievable! Terrible business practices, considering the time I took to prepare for and attend the interviews. I come across Firm A every now and then in my current role and have recommended to a few folks that they steer clear of Firm A for both employment and business opportunities…their loss!

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